Doing a double-take on cloning

    What is the big hoo-hah about cloning? While there are a number of legitimate and intelligent ethical objections to the existing cloning methods available to us, a large number of anti-cloning activists seem fundamentally misinformed about what this technology actually represents. It’s almost like saying, “”I like lollipops,”” and getting the response, “”Ahh, but gasoline is poisonous! So lollipops are evil!”” Anti-cloning activists do not seem to be objecting to the rather mundane reality of cloning, but some science fiction nightmare instead.

    Right now, human reproductive cloning — and quite possibly animal reproductive cloning, too — raises significant ethical concerns. The quest to develop a human clone should not be pursued until the technology improves. The methods currently available to us requires many failed attempts, many deformed fetuses and forced miscarriages before a well-formed fetus can be conceived. Even then, the clone will likely suffer from severe genetic defects that will not manifest until later in life. But should the technology ever advance to the point where it is possible to create a human clone safely and without creating deformed babies, then the ethical conundrum would be removed.

    Detractors of human reproductive cloning may be misinformed, but if anything, supporters are even more misinformed. Parents seeking to bring a dead child back to life or people seeking immortality through their clone — and those arguing against cloning based on those potentialities — simply do not understand the technology.

    Identical twins naturally occur when the cells in a fertilized embryo split improperly, creating an offshoot embryo that becomes a mirror image of the other. Artificial methods of creating twins, which have been widely used for some time, is merely an extension of this, with doctors artificially inducing this natural process instead of depending on the caprices of nature. Reproductive cloning is yet another extension of this process, with the twin being created many years after the original has been born. Instead of inducing an embryo to split, adult somatic cells are introduced to a donor embryo. In all three processes, no new sperm and no new egg is used to create the twin, but otherwise the latter stages of development are no different from any other zygote.

    The clone has just as much a separate identity as any identical twin — the clone is not a copy of the original, but a new human being. Bereaved parents seeking to resurrect their child will only supplant their deceased child with a new one. Just as precious, perhaps, but not a replacement. People seeking immortality through their clones will have as much success as everyone else does when they bring a new child into the world. Their genes will live on, but their minds will not.

    One of the more valid reasons to pursue human reproductive cloning is to allow infertile couples or single-sex couples to have children that are biologically related to themselves. Another is to produce children who would be ideal transplant donors for a desperately ill existing child (presumably we are talking about transplants that would not endanger the life of the new child). The insights we obtain from cloning research might also benefit other fields in the life sciences, allowing us to cure new diseases, guarantee newborn children to be free of genetic defects, even teach us more about the aging process and how to extend life.

    Objections to cloning can largely be divided into two categories, one larger than the other. Most of the reasons given to ban cloning are concerns about possible abuses once the technology matures, including worries about the commodification of human clones, or the possibility of clones actually becoming property of the corporation that made them. Hopefully, the reasons why reinstating slavery would be bad are sufficiently obvious that we need not dawdle on this point.

    Other worries include the possibility that clones might be subject to prejudice and second-class citizenship, or that people might pursue cloning for unreasonable purposes. (The Raelians present themselves as an example.) The worry that cloning might lead to a future society overly focused on discrimination by genetics, leading to the dystopia portrayed by Aldous Huxley in his book, “”Brave New World,”” where dumb but strong clones are created to be ruled by an ultra-intelligent elite.

    On the surface, these are very convincing reasons to halt research on cloning, but upon closer examination, they don’t really apply at all. Banning cloning because of the worry that clones might become slaves would be like banning childbirth because of the worry that the child might be abused. We do not ban automobiles because people die in auto accidents. We do not ban kitchen knives because people have been killed using them. The correct solution to these real and genuine concerns against cloning is to introduce legislation to prevent abuse of the technology, not introduce legislation to prevent the technology completely.

    Then there are the objections to the act of cloning itself from people who consider the very act of cloning to be abhorrent, against nature and against God. These are objections that are much harder to dissect because they stem from deep-seated biases that cannot be swayed by logic: our unconscious, unbending fear of the Other. Besides being hard to dislodge, it is also very difficult to convince someone who does not share these biases. I, for one, have never figured out why so many believe cloning to be an act against God, or why there should be any question at all that a clone has a soul. The Bible certainly does not say that there is anything unholy about reproduction through adult somatic cells, and neither should we.

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